Buffalo Grove High School this week announced the largest single gift received in its 46-year history: $1 million that will be used to create a robotics, manufacturing and biomedical health care innovation lab.
The donation by Class of 1988 alumnus Stephen Yacktman and his wife, Ellyn, to the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Education Foundation will go toward state-of-the-art lab equipment and supplies.
School officials say the equipment used by industry professionals -- such as automated robotics cells -- is rare to see on the high school level and will give students an idea of what they might encounter on the manufacturing floor.
"When I first got the call that we had a donor willing to really help us expand manufacturing, it brought chills," Principal Jeff Wardle said. "This is an area that we know our students are interested in. We know there's a huge job opportunity for them. But honestly as a public high school, we didn't have the funds to really fill out the space with the technology and equipment that we need so our kids are really ready for the industry. And now, just that fast, we can."
Yacktman, chief investment officer at Austin, Texas-based Yacktman Asset Management, told District 214 foundation officials that he attributes much of his success in life to his experiences at Buffalo Grove High, where he took advanced placement classes and was involved in the arts and athletics.
He said he hopes the new lab will help students develop workforce skills and provide training for their careers.
"This is about helping them discover their future and helping them determine what motivates and inspires them, and then making sure they are equipped to succeed as Buffalo Grove graduates," Yacktman said.
Yacktman, who grew up in Arlington Heights, went on to attend Brigham Young University, where he graduated with an economics degree and an MBA. Though his career is in finance, he says he maintains a passion for manufacturing, engineering, science and technology.
The foundation's executive director, Erin Brooks, said Yacktman made the donation in honor of Saulius Ploplys, his former AP Physics teacher who was a major influence on him. As a result, the lab will be named for Ploplys and his legacy.
Ploplys, who retired in 2003 after 34 years at Buffalo Grove and the former Arlington High School, said he was honored by the recognition, having received word from Yacktman about a month ago that he intended to make a donation in the former teacher's name.
The teacher and student reconnected eight years ago when Ploplys called to inquire about a fund Yacktman administers. They struck up a conversation and Yacktman soon invited Ploplys to join him and his family on a zero-gravity airplane flight. Yacktman also invited Ploplys to the Class of 1988 reunion last year.
Ploplys, who taught physics and chemistry courses, said he enjoyed his teaching career -- especially when he could help make an impact on students like Yacktman.
"In physics, we asked the big questions, like what's the nature of the universe?" Ploplys said. "In a room of bright students, you'd see their eyes light up as ideas take hold. That's the reward I was mostly seeking."
The science lab on the southwest side of the school building was expanded last summer and will be updated during the next four months in time for classes in the spring 2020 semester. A dedication ceremony is planned for the winter.